Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Classic Peach Pie

I have a confession to make…  I don’t know how, why or who actually let this happen, but I didn't experience the sweet, irresistible juiciness of a fresh summer peach until I was a senior in college.  No, really. I did not eat my first peach until I was 22 years old.  Without ever having tasted one I had somehow convinced myself and any adult in charge of feeding me that peaches were the devil's fruit.  They tasted like dry, fuzzy velvet causing me to react the same way a dog does to a spoonful of peanut butter.  They had no business on my plate.  None. Also, my little brother Mikie LOVED peaches, which, in toddler logic, automatically meant I couldn't like them even if I wanted to (ohhh sibling rivalry).  Like most kids, proclaiming I hated peaches was enough  justification for my parents to not make me try them.  At least we can all agree that we were that toddler once, can't we?

And here's another confession: not only did I "hate" peaches and any form they came in (fresh peaches, canned syrupy morsels, juice concentrate, frostbit and frozen), I thought peaches were apricots.  I know that's ridiculous, but what makes it more ridiculous is the fact that I was raised in Hollister, a small town lined with orchard after orchard of Blenheim apricot trees.  As many have said, you didn't truly grow up in Hollister if you didn't spend a summer cuttin’ ‘cots for your first real job (unless, of course, you were me and you had no idea apricots weren't peaches and wanted nothing to do with stone fruits.  Again, I have no idea how my parents ever let this atrocity happen).  Growing up, I vividly remember a poor pathetic excuse for an apricot tree in my backyard on Central Avenue.  The trunk was no bigger than my forearm and its long, wilted leaves sometimes yellowed at the tips.  I used to pick the leaves and assemble pretend flower bouquets for my mom.  The dried pits scattered on the ground were fossils that needed to be excavated.  The green unripened  fruits made the perfect surprise grenade in dirt clod wars with Mikie.  I swear, as far as my memory is concerned it was the never-ripening-tree of inedible fruit. And I’m sure my mom was fine with this because Mikie would have ate them all in a heartbeat if she hadn't told us our rat terrier Butch peed on the tree, explaining that why the cots were green and the leaves yellow.  Reason number three I never ate peaches (disguised as apricots): dog pee.

In college I worked part time in a bakery as a scrawler of “Happy Birthday!” on cakes and a packager of petit fours.  The bakery was located in a small, locally owned market in Cotati next to an abundant produce section overflowing with local bounty.  Jose, who worked in the produce department, was a charming and jolly older man with jet black hair, squinty eyes, and an always-stained green apron with a pocket knife clipped on the bib.  Each day I worked he would bring me the most ripe sample slices of any fruit he thought I needed to try and teach me about it.  He taught me how to squeeze a melon and what shade the perfect Asian pear should be.  He taught me which tomatoes were best for making sauces and which were best for turkey sandwiches.  Once, during one of our daily chats and sample sessions, I politely refused a slice of white peach.  He was appalled.  Offended.  Confused.  In an effort to sway me, Jose told me all about doughnut peaches, white peaches and yellow peaches.  How to pick a ripe one.  The best colors and what they meant.  The easiest way to remove the skin to avoid the dry, fuzzy velvet.  That a fresh peach pie was the quintessential taste of summer.  That I’d been depriving myself of one of the simplest pleasures for 22 years of my life.  In an act of “I told you so” spite, I nibbled on a slice of white peach with full intention of spitting it out into his fat hand.  Its nectar dripped down my wrist and exploded in my mouth with sweet, sweet flavor and sunshine.  I didn't spit it out.  I took another bite, just to make sure.  Jose knew that he had won me over and I was hooked.

Looking back, I'm grateful my parents weren't the type to make me eat everything they put on my plate, but in this case I would almost consider it child abuse.  No parent should ever allow their child to deprive themselves of this godsend of a fruit (we can also add strawberries and tomatoes to this list, which I didn't eat for a longer time than I'm willing to admit. I know, I was a weird kid).

In celebration of my now four year love affair with peaches, I decided this summer would be my first experimentation with peach pie.  My only run-in with this summertime staple (other than putting frozen pies in the convection oven in the bakery) was when I was about 8 years old and Boggum, which is what we called my mother’s mother, tried her hand at baking one. The end result was more of a hot and overly sweet peach soup with soggy, raw pieces of dough and sugary yet hardly edible crumbles.  Her infamous pie flop provided me yet another reason to avoid the fruit.  In hindsight, I don’t think I ever witnessed her bake anything that wasn't premixed and packaged, so pie was probably a tall order, bless her soul.  I was willing to give it my own try and I am so glad I did.

For this recipe I opted to use my Grammy’s tried and true pie crust recipe, but added a tablespoon of sugar to sweeten it up a bit this time around.  For the filling, I took pointers from Smitten Kitchen’s classic peach pie recipe (which you can here).  Deb Perelman's simple combination of cinnamon and nutmeg plays perfectly on the peaches'  natural flavor and sweetness without overpowering it.  As Deb says, “Peach pie...is one of the universe's most perfect foods and it needs nothing- not a vanilla bean, not a dash a thyme or grating of fresh ginger- to be the very embodiment of a midsummer night's dream".   I've never heard truer words, Deb.  I ate this pie for dessert.  I ate it for breakfast.  I sneak into the fridge and steal bites with a fork nearly every time I walk by.  I swear I taste sunshine in this pie.


Classic Peach Pie
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen's Peach Pie

Pie Crust:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cups Crisco
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons water, very cold

7-8 medium-sized yellow peaches
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3  cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon table salt
A sprinkle of nutmeg
3 tablespoons cornstarch

The Crust:
Combine flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Using a fork, pastry cutter or your fingers (I always use a fork because I feel like I have more control), cut the Crisco into the flour mixture until you have flakes of Crisco no larger than the size of a small pea.  Work in 4 tablespoons of the water with the same method as the Crisco. Add last four tablespoons of water and knead in only a few times, just enough to work it into a large ball. Separate the dough into two balls, wrap in saran wrap and flatten slightly. Place in the refrigerator while you make the filling. Note that this is not a frozen pie crust recipe and will make enough just for the crust and top of one pie.

The Filling:
Prepare an ice bath. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Cut a shallow “X” on the bottom of each peach with a seated knife and gently place in the pot of water.  Poach for about 2 minutes (slightly longer for less ripe peaches. But only slightly, you don't want to cook them).  Remove from the pot and immediately place in the ice bath for approximately 30 seconds to one minute to stop the cooking process and remove to cutting board.  The skins should slide right off the peach.  If the peaches aren't ripe enough you may have some trouble doing this (like I did with two of them) so you can use a pairing to help peel the skin off the rest of the way.  Once the skins are removed, halve your peaches and remove the pits.  Cut the peaches into 1/3 inch sized slices and place in a large bowl.  Toss all slices in lemon juice and set aside.  In a small bowl, stir the dry ingredients together until evenly mixed.  Add the mixture to the peaches and gently toss evenly to coat.  Set aside.

Assemble the Pie:
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Remove your pie dough from the refrigerator.  Generously flour your kitchen counter (or whatever your rolling surface is going to be) and your rolling pin.  Remove one disc of dough from its saran wrap and place on the counter and start rolling the heck out of it.  This is the most time consuming and frustrating part of pie making, but if you keep flouring your rolling pin and the surface underneath the dough you shouldn't have any trouble at all.  Once the dough is roughly the size of a 13 inch circle, place it in a 9 inch pie dish, gently lining the creases and trimming the edges so it hangs over by an inch.  Scoop all the filling into the pie dish.

The Lattice Pie Crust:
Roll out the second disc using the same technique.  Using a knife or pastry cutter, cut the dough  into even 1/2 inch to 1 inch wide strips, depending on how wide you want them.  Lay 5-7 parallel  strips of dough across the top of your pie, leaving about 1/2 inch space in between each one.  Fold Back every other strip half way. Take the longest strip of dough and place it perpendicular to the others.  Pull the folded-back strips back over the pie top and this strip.  Fold back the other strips and place a new strip perpendicular to these.  Continue this process alternating between the strips until the lattice top is formed across both sides of the pie.  Trim the overlaying edges of the lattice strips so they are even with the lower crust or so that they are even with the diameter of the pie dish (this pretty much depends on how thick your crusts are.  If they're thick, I'd recommend trimming the lattice strips to the edge of the pie dish so that crimping is easier.  This is totally up to you).  Crimp the lower crust over the top by pinching or using a fork.  Brush pie top with water and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking for an additional 30 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the filling begins to slowly bubble.  Allow to cool for at least an hour at room temperature to allow the filling to thicken (this will prevent the filling from oozing out of the crust and into the pie dish which I'm sure what is happened to poor Boggum).  The pie can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator, whichever you prefer.

Warm, a la mode.  Or, however you want. Who am I to judge (I am, after all the weird kid who never ate peaches, strawberries or tomatoes)?  Enjoy! 


  1. Love the pictures and recipe! I got a tip from my aunt that putting peach schnapps into peach pie/crumbles gives it an extra punch of flavor :)

    1. That's a great idea! I'll have to give that a try my next go around. I wonder if bourbon would be just as good ;)


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